Esmie misses her mum, even though she was only a tiny baby when she died. She has a photo by her bed, and sometimes – when she needs advice or just fancies a chat – she asks her mum for help. Sometimes she even hears her reply.
But Esmie thinks her dad is lonely. And her big brother Matthew would definitely benefit from a female influence. So Esmie decides to take action: she's going to find her dad a girlfriend. Beautiful, clever, charming, kind to children and animals ... How hard can it be to find the perfect partner for your dad?
In the book which won her the Red House Children's Book Award, Gwyneth Rees tells a story of healing and love with characteristic charm and humour. The Mum Hunt comes to Bloomsbury for a refreshed cover look and renewed marketing and publicity to bring new readers to this quirky, lovely modern classic.
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It all started in French. Well, sort of. I was sitting in French, which was our last lesson that day, feeling fidgety because I'd already finished my work and I had nothing left to do. I was dying to speak to Holly. Holly is my best friend and I'd been waiting all day to ask her advice about something. Holly is an expert at knowing what to do in difficult situations. She says it's because her mum treats her like a grown-up and lets her watch anything she wants on TV and ask any questions she wants about it afterward. Sometimes Holly and her mum stay up late discussing all sorts of things, which makes me really envious because I'm not allowed to stay up late to discuss anything at all.
Anyway, Holly had been away at the dentist all morning, otherwise I'd have spoken to her earlier. If we'd had an afternoon break I'd have spoken to her then, but our school has abolished afternoon breaks so we can finish earlier like they do on the Continent or something. That means we're expected to go from lunchtime until three o'clock without talking to each other, which if you ask me is a form of child abuse. Well, it is for me. I'm a bit of a chatterbox—at least, that's what Dad says. Matthew, my brother, calls me a stuck record, which I object to because it implies that I say the same things over and over again, which I don't. He says our great-aunt Esmerelda could talk the hind leg off a donkey too, and that's why I got named after her, but Dad says I got named after her because my mother really liked the name. Nobody calls me Esmerelda, though. They all call me Esmie for short.
Anyway, that afternoon we'd been set an exercise by our French teacher, Miss Murphy(who'd left the room to sort out the teacherless class next door), that involved translating a whole list of different types of food from English into French.
"Guess what?" I hissed, leaning over to see how my friend was getting on with her answers.
"Get off!" Holly pushed my hand away as I tried to pencil in the word pomme for her next to apple. "I can do this myself, you know, Esmie!"
"Sorry." It's just that Juliette, our au pair, is French and I've started getting top marks in French at school ever since she came. Holly swears she's not jealous but she gets pretty annoyed with me for always finishing things before she does.
"Last night Juliette came up with this idea—and I want to know what you think of it!" I announced.
Holly looked at me. I knew that would get her attention.
But I wanted to tell her the whole story—from the beginning—so I did.
"It started when Juliette said something in French that Matthew didn't understand but I did!" I began proudly. (Dad has this idea that he can use Juliette to turn Matthew and me into fluent French speakers overnight if he gets her to talk to us in nothing but French. Unfortunately Juliette came to England to practice her English so there's been a bit of a clash.)
Holly crinkled up her nose. "I think it's really daft, your dad making you talk French every mealtime."
"It's not every mealtime. We're allowed to speak English at breakfast and lunch and all day if we want at the weekends. Anyway, Matthew didn't understand her and I did!"
"So?" Holly grunted, going back to her work. Holly doesn't understand what it's like to have to compete all the time with an older brother for your parent's attention. She's an only child. Her parents are divorced and they compete with each other all the time for her attention. They had a big fight about who would get custody of her and now it's shared, so Holly spends one night a week and every second weekend with her dad and the rest of the time with her mum. She's got two of everything. Two bedrooms, two wardrobes, two toothbrushes. The only thing she hasn't got two of yet is mothers and fathers. Neither of her parents has found anyone else, though Holly reckons it won't be long before one of them does and she's dreading that.
I continued to talk despite the fact that she looked like she wasn't listening. "We were sitting eating our dinner when Juliette started telling Dad—in French—all about this advert she'd seen in the lonely hearts column, which she said would be perfect for him! Dad nearly choked on his pommes de terre." I pointed to the empty space on Holly's page next to potatoes and waited for her to fill it in.
"What did your dad say?" Holly put down her pencil, looking interested now.
"Something in French that I didn't understand but I think it was pretty rude. Then the telephone rang and it was Dad's work and they'd just found a dead body or something and that ruined everything as usual. But then, after he'd gone out, Juliette showed us the advert and—"
"A dead body?" Holly always gets excited by any gruesome details I let out about Dad's work. Dad is a police detective, which Holly reckons is really cool. "Was it murdered?"
"How should I know?" I wasn't meant to know about it at all and Dad would kill me if he knew I was talking about it to Holly. "Look, never mind that! I want to know what you think about this." I rummaged around in my schoolbag and pulled out a crumpled piece of newspaper, but before I could show it to her our French teacher strode back into the room and stopped at the first desk she came to.
Which happened to be ours.
"What's this?" Before I knew what was happening she had grabbed the lonely hearts column from my hand.
I was horrified. Miss Murphy is fortyish, with round spectacles and very flat hair, and she looks like she wouldn't know what to do with a lonely heart if it jumped out and hit her in the face. And she couldn't possibly miss this lonely heart because it was ringed with Juliette's red pen.